What is a Hostile Work Environment?
According to U.S. labor laws, a hostile work environment exists when the workplace becomes difficult for an employee to perform his/her work due to the actions of another person in the workplace. Typically, small workplace annoyances and isolated incidents are not considered to be illegal, but when conduct creates a work environment that’s offensive, intimidating or hostile to a reasonable person based on certain protected classes, such actions may be unlawful.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a hostile work environment is a form of harassment that permeates the workplace and interferes with an employee’s ability to perform his/her job. An employer can be held liable for failing to prevent hostile workplace conditions. An employer must prove that he/she attempted to prevent hostile conditions and that the accused employee did not comply.
When a hostile work environment is based on allegations of discrimination such as race, sex, age, nationality, religion or disability, or an employee is unfairly terminated, the employee can rightfully file a wrongful termination claim with wrongful termination lawyers.
What to Do About a Hostile Workplace
A hostile work environment has nothing to do with screaming bosses, dark cubicles or unpleasant break rooms. According to law, a hostile workplace exists when an employee feels uncomfortable in his/her work space due to intimidation, discrimination, offensive behavior or abuse by a coworker or superior.
If an employee experiences a hostile work environment, he/she can file a lawsuit against the harasser in the workplace. When considering a lawsuit with wrongful termination lawyers, there are several legal elements that must be considered:
- Does the victim belong to a protected class based on race, sex, age, ethnicity, religion or disability?
- Was the harassment or termination directly related to a victim of one of these protected classes?
- Did the employer know about the hostile work environment and appropriately address the situation?
- Did the hostile work environment or harassment involve threats of altering employment status?
- Was the offensive action that created the hostile work environment ongoing?
Generally, a hostile work environment can be difficult to establish unless the harassment is ongoing and severe. To determine whether a work environment is hostile, EEOC investigators evaluate each harassment case independently based on the totality of circumstances for that claim. Although substantiating hostile work environments can be difficult, victims of wrongful termination due to harassment, discrimination or retaliation are protected by federal laws.